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The Slow Zone from Harvard to Central

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has warned commuters of delays on all metro lines.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has warned commuters of delays on all metro lines. By Julian J. Giordano
By Clyve Lawrence, Crimson Opinion Writer
Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House and a chief editor of Harvard Undergraduate Urban Sustainability Lab.

On the morning train between Harvard Station and Central Station, I pull out my phone and glance at the stopwatch. Twenty four minutes and 19 seconds. I slump against my seat. It’s the 97th straight morning with this slow zone.

Over the summer, I timed my commute on the Red Line from Alewife Station to Park Street Station, inspired by the recent revamp of a dashboard by TransitMatters, a Massachusetts organization tracking the (un)reliability of the MBTA and advocating for improvement.

Last year, I wrote about our transportation crisis, arguing that car-dependent infrastructure and urban sprawl impede our shift from motocracy toward a sustainable future. I also joined the effort to address these issues by organizing for mobility justice, a new framework for providing equal access to movement for people of all backgrounds and abilities.

In service of my advocacy, I often document what I see wrong with our current system in my daily life. On bus and train commutes, bike rides, and walking trips, I take note of movement and space, paying particular attention to those most affected by the problems plaguing our transportation.

What I see startles me.

In the heart of Boston’s daily commute is a frustratingly sluggish, unreliable transit system, underscoring the need to prioritize sustainable, accessible improvement.

When I moved to Massachusetts two years ago, I went from having never used public transportation — the way to traverse Myrtle Beach, S.C., is by golf cart — to knowing exactly which bus route to take to access my favorite restaurants (the 86 bus gets you a five-minute walk from the doorstep of Himalayan Kitchen in Somerville). Today, I proudly count myself among the over 750,000 people who rely on the MBTA.

We are a region that needs transit. Why don’t we treat it that way?

The MBTA is suffering from a severe safety and operations crisis. Distressing headlines regularly fill the pages of the Boston Globe: “Add 20 minutes to your commute each way.” “More and more T workers are leaving.” “Green Line train derailed at Packard’s Corner.” Earlier this year, the MBTA was placed under review by the Federal Transit Administration for safety issues. In response, the T added slow zones, which have increased travel times on the Red Line by over 80 minutes at its worst.

Google Maps estimates it should take around 25 minutes to get downtown from Alewife Station to Park Street Station on the Red Line. In practice, the only certainty of taking the T is the uncertainty of the commute time.

My frustration peaks in the slow zone between Harvard Station and Central Station, where the train’s speed slows to 10 miles per hour. Occasionally, an unwitting rider scans the train car and wonders audibly, “Why aren’t we going faster?”

Internally, I share that sentiment. Commuting shouldn’t be like this. The United States lags far behind the rest of the developed world in making movement easy, safe, and accessible. In Switzerland and Chile, convenient, electrified rail is the standard. In Tokyo or Taipei, trains generally stay within a minute of schedule. Meanwhile, Amsterdam, Paris, and Copenhagen are incredibly bike-friendly cities.

With billions of dollars lost annually to the costs of car traffic, a significant spike in pedestrian deaths, and a worsening climate crisis, our government should be investing heavily in alternative modes of transportation.

And yet we don’t — perhaps because of the influential oil industry, unwarranted stigma around who uses transit, or a legacy of systemically racist urban planning policies.

These thoughts weigh on my mind as the train inches toward Central. Yet, traveling outside the confines of a car driver’s seat, I realize I can direct my attention beyond my destination. I observe those riding alongside me. Even as we all tire from a system in distress, the train provides a sense of community.

Together, we can make our transportation system better. We can embrace mobility justice and actively work to fix the unfair disadvantages certain people face when they move. To achieve this goal, we must build infrastructure that everyone can use. Creating seamless connections between neighborhoods through well-planned transit hubs, dedicated bus lanes, and safer sidewalks can help people access jobs, schools, and essential services without barriers.

The train finally enters Park Street Station. I step out of it and onto the platform, stopping and looking around for a second. Every day, somewhere around 15,000 Bostonians hustle in and out of this station — parents and children, blue-collar and white-collar workers, townies and transplants. True to the city, someone yells an expletive as they narrowly miss the train’s closing doors.

I see a bustling hub of people longing for a dependable transportation system. Their stories embody the urgency of reshaping our transportation landscape. Reducing our region’s dependence on cars and shifting towards sustainable transit serves the need for environmental resilience and social cohesion. I long for a future where mobility is transformative.

For now, I check my stopwatch. 38 minutes and 35 seconds. I sigh and jog up the steps.

Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House and a chief editor of Harvard Undergraduate Urban Sustainability Lab.

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